A week and a day after my layoff, I sat in a neighborhood hair salon and considered, for the first time ever, going brunette.
When I’d made the appointment, I’d planned to get my usual blond highlights and a cut, so that if and when I actually had a job interview, I’d look more put-together than I actually am. But I already wasn’t feeling like myself, being out of work for the first time in nearly 12 years. Did I really need a physical, external change, too?
Well, yeah. I guess I did.
I wanted the world to somehow get tipped off to this otherwise painfully invisible, seismic change that’s now underway inside of me, as an inevitable result of this layoff. Yes, I’m laboring to do all the things you do to see yourself through a mini-unemployment crisis – overhauling my resume, writing cover letters, updating my LinkedIn page – but it still feels like I’m floating through these days. I have plenty to do to keep myself busy, but I miss my coworkers, and the energetic hum of the newsroom, and the satisfaction that comes from writing and publishing stories daily.
So although I hadn’t considered a significant hair color change until I was sitting in that chair, I found myself – when my stylist said, “What would you think of going darker?” – nodding and saying, “Yeah. Let’s do it.”
At this point, I should note that I’m not a person who makes broad changes of any kind in regard to my appearance. I’ve never gone through a phase of strange or different hair colors (though I’ve been tempted upon reaching middle age); my clothing is far more comfy than chic; I don’t wear makeup; and I have no tattoos – hell, I never even bothered to pierce my ears. I always liked the idea of asking the world to accept me precisely as I am, by nature.
But guess what? Going “natural” now just might hinder my job prospects.
Yes, my stylist and I chose a shade of dark chestnut that would mask the gray in my hair, since I now have to, on top of everything else, worry about appearing to be “too old” in my job interviews. I don’t generally kvetch about aging, but I must admit, being forced to think about this definitely adds to the humiliation of being unemployed. (Tellingly, I was tempted to write in my cover letter, “Sorry in advance for not being a Millenial, but if you’ve got a VHS player lying around, I’m your girl.”)
When my stylist brushed and blow dried my hair, I stared at her station’s mirror uncomprehendingly. The skin on my forehead looked red and irritated from the eyebrow wax, so at least that much was familiar. But the dark, shoulder-length mop on my head looked more like a stylish wig than something that was now part of my body.
So often, you want big shifts in your life to not threaten or change the person you’ve worked so hard to become. I remember desperately hoping to maintain a sense of my hard-won identity after we had kids, for example. But it was ludicrous, of course, to expect or even hope for such a thing. Becoming a parent can’t not change you, since the center point of your whole life shifts.
In that same vein, losing a job that you poured your heart and soul into for more than a decade can’t not change you, either. My family and friends will certainly help me stay rooted, but professionally, I’m on my way to destinations unknown.
And as a nod of acquiescence to this truth, I now look more like the stranger I suddenly feel myself to be.